1570s, from Medieval Latin preternaturalis (mid-13c.), from Latin phrase praeter naturam (praeterque fatum) "beyond nature (and beyond fate)," from praeter "beyond" (see preterite) + accusative of natura "nature" (see natural). "Preternatural is used especially to note that which might have been a work of nature, but is not" [Century Dictionary].
Natural: is the action which is proper to the structure of nature. When we speak of nature, we are referring the nature of the material universe.
Preternatural: is the action which goes beyond the structure of the nature of the material universe. The fruit of the action of an angelical or demoniacal nature is said to be preternatural. The word comes from praeter naturam, beyond nature.
Supernatural: is the action which goes beyond any created nature. This form of activity belongs only to God.
Material nature can bring about surprising things, but it will always be according the the laws of the material cosmos. The devils can levitate an object in the air, transform something instantaneously, etc. They can do things which go beyond the possibilities of the material world, but they cannot go beyond the laws of their angelical natures, because they cannot do everything. They cannot do everything even in the material world. God, however, can create an organ from nothing; a devil cannot.
These differences are also valid concerning those things that happen in our soul. For example, a beautiful scenery can remind me of God's beauty, which is something natural. While an angel or devil can send inspirations directly to my mind, God goes beyond that, since he can send spiritual graces (repentance, thanksgiving, etc.) to the most inner recesses of my spirit, bringing about radical changes in a split second. All workings of grace are supernatural. And grace is always sent directly by God.
(a)ccording to Catholic Tradition, Adam and Eve were endowed with “preternatural gifts”. These preternatural gifts are identified as the following:
- Infused Knowledge
- Integrity (human appetites being completely submitted to the human intellect)
Adam and Eve were also constituted in original righteousness (justitia) on account of the supernatural gift of sanctifying grace.
These four gifts correspond to the four Cardinal Virtues:
- Prudence (relating to knowledge)
- Fortitude (relating to immortality)
- Temperance (relating to integrity)
- Justice (relating to original righteousness)
On account of sin, humanity lost the preternatural gifts and the supernatural gift and fell to a natural state. Man’s intellect became darkened, he became subject to disease and death, concupiscence or the “lust of the flesh” arose in man, and he lost his original righteousness and thus gained original sin.
—excerpt from an article by Margaret Galitzin
Ten types of physical phenomena (listed by Fr. Antonio Royo Marin, O.P.) that can be falsified by the Devil. With God’s permission (to test the sheep of the fold while bringing about the end of the demon's action? to sift out false prophets who would lead others astray?), the Devil can do any of the following:
- Produce visions that are actually seen, or imaginative visions.
- Falsify ecstasy.
- Produce rays of light in the body and sensible heat.
- Cause feelings of consolation and tenderness.
- Instantaneously cure strange sicknesses that were caused by diabolical influence. Tertullian wryly notes that these were not authentic sicknesses in the first place, and the Devil really doesn’t cure – he just ceases to torment the individual. This is why even miracles worked in the causes of Saints had to be so carefully examined.
- Produce the stigmata, as well as other kind of bodily extraordinary phenomena or objects such as crowns, rings, etc.
- Simulate miracles and other phenomena such as levitation and bi-location.
- Cause persons or objects to disappear from sight (by placing an obstacle in the line of vision or acting directly on the sense of sight).
- Simulate locutions by means of sound waves or immediate action on the sense of hearing.
- Produce body incombustibility by interposing some medium between the fire and the body of the individual.The need to be vigilant
The general rule of the Church with regard to extraordinary phenomenon used to be: Be extremely vigilant in matters of extraordinary phenomena. Since Satan is capable of producing visions, ecstasies, stigmata, and any number of phenomena, the Church used to employ a long, arduous process to determine authenticity.Many Catholics today jump on the bandwagon of any person who has a vision or effects a so-called “healing” – so common at charismatic functions. Others ask God for visions and healing powers for themselves, thinking that this is a sign of holiness and God’s favor. It is not a wise thing to do, and the Church used to caution against this.Before Vatican II, the Church always taught that great vigilance should be shown in these matters. Religion teachers used to counsel us to never, never ask for supernatural gifts: First, because it was for God to choose to whom He gives these gifts; and second, because in our vainglory to display special gifts, we could well be inviting Satan to make some preternatural action.The wise course regarding signs and wonders is to avoid the two extremes: either to see every unusual phenomenon as supernatural or miraculous or to refuse to recognize anything but the natural in reality.
People who practice vacating their minds with various mental techniques run the real risk of exposing the imagination, for starters, to diabolical influence. The imagination is a gateway. Woe to he or she who opens that door to influences that destroy the soul.
Via the imagination, the faculty of reason can be bypassed and the will—finding content that fuels curiosity—becomes desperate for satisfaction, eager for something to which it can cling. If an experience or object appears as a source of pleasure (e.g., false empowerment and/or false satisfaction) to an individual who is robbed of spiritual common sense, that is, a common sense informed by the Church's Tradition, the devil can manufacture allegiance to himself through such a door opened to him. The devil is, of course, a skillful manipulator. Most people would flee in shock and terror if they knew the source of their inspiration and empowerment was the devil. In order to wreak havoc among the ignorant and proud, the devil knows he must conceal his identity. By employing distractions of one kind or another, the devil is able to convince men and women that what is evil is good, and that which is repugnant is beautiful. Let's face it, for the last one hundred years or so the devil has done a shockingly effective job at concealing his identity and convincing many people that he doesn't exist.
No wise exorcist would, on his own authority, attempt to cast out a demon.
And when he (Jesus) was come to the multitude, there came to him a man falling down on his knees before him, saying: Lord, have pity on my son, for he is a lunatic, and suffereth much: for he falleth often into the fire, and often into the water.
And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.
Then Jesus answered and said: O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.
And Jesus rebuked him, and the devil went out of him, and the child was cured from that hour.
Then came the disciples to Jesus secretly, and said: Why could not we cast him out?
Jesus said to them: Because of your unbelief. For, amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, Remove from hence hither, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you.
But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.
—St. Matthew 17:14-20